Review

Review: The Vatican Princess by C.W. Gortner

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Oh, the Borgias. Infamous throughout history for murder, debauchery, incest, bribery, nepotism, poison, adultery and so much more. From the moment Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI, he was already scandalous – a pope with at least four children, possibly more.

My question is, how could you possibly not want to read a book about this family?

I’ve been fascinated by the Borgias, and the period of history within which they lived, for a while now. Their story is so familiar to me, but still I love to read about them – whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, I love it. The Vatican Princess in particular is, I have to say, one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read about the Borgias. Told from the point of view of Lucrezia, the Pope’s beloved daughter or his ‘farfallina’, the story begins when she is 12 years of age, about to be married off to Giovanni Sforza. Lucrezia’s life was a sad one – forced into a series of marriages from a young age, some unwanted, some happy, but all ended badly.

Gortner’s narrative worked beautifully. The book spans about eight or nine years, divided into sections of several years each, but it skips through chunks of time without missing anything important. There is a real sense of Lucrezia growing, perhaps too early, from a girl into a woman, and learning what her family is really like. She hardens herself, learns how to protect those she loves – without Gortner falling into the trap of portraying her as an evil seductress, poisoning every Borgia enemy, as some texts show her.

I don’t know whether it was due to my familiarity with the Borgia history, or because of Gortner’s writing, but the book was so accessible. There is quite a large cast of characters, some of whose names might seem very odd to someone who does not know this period of history, but at no point did I feel lost amongst them all. It would be interesting to know whether someone who does not know the history as I do felt so comfortable among the cast of characters. She is both strong and naive, retaining some of that childish innocence whilst still learning how to make her way through the politics of late 15th century Rome.

Overall, The Vatican Princess was a wonderful novel, some of the most engaging and beautifully written historical fiction that I have read in a while. The thing about the Borgias is so much of their history is uncertain – so many rumours contradict each other, there is a lot that is not set in stone – that actually, it is possible to be quite inventive when writing about them. Gortner uses this, but also sticks fairly faithfully to the ‘history’, making some changes where they allow the story to flow more easily – and explaining all of this at the end. Whether you’re already a fan of one of history’s most infamous families, or know nothing about this, I would highly recommend this title.

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